When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)
Yesterday evening’s portion of the Beatitudes has Jesus instructing his listeners how to pray — and how not to.
I’m serving this weekend as spiritual director of a New Beginnings retreat for middle school youth in the Diocese of Fond du Lac.
At events like these, we’re careful to model a very personal, comfortable prayer style. Youth leaders often begin their prayers with “Hey, God.”
That affectionate style of prayer models the intimacy Jesus desires with each of us. It’s no accident that I’ll be using the icon of the Beloved Disciple in reflections and the Eucharist throughout the day today.
No empty phrases
The prayer Jesus teaches his listeners — what we now call “the Lord’s Prayer” — is not just a lovely model of affectionate prayer, in which we address God as Abba (“daddy”), but it’s also a prayer in which every word counts.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your Name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial,
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
now and for ever. Amen.
“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” so you don’t need to wrap your prayer up in “empty phrases.”
Just cut to the chase: God, we praise you, you know what we need, we’re sorry, help us.
Never have to do it alone
I’ve written before about the powerful way my recovery group prays the Lord’s Prayer.
We stand and gather in a circle, and one of the long timers begins, “We stand here holding hands, knowing that we never have to do this alone. Whose Father?”
“Our Father …”
Far from “empty phrases,” these words speak of grace and power to heal.
The touch of another person’s hand connects me not just to them, but to the Lord himself, who desires to be in relationship with me.
We pray in union with each other, and we pray in words made familiar through long repetition, one day at a time.
Rich phrases, poignant and powerful
In the same way, the Daily Office offers us a chance to pray in union with Christians around the world, and to pray in words made familiar through long repetition.
The Confession, the psalms, the Scripture lessons and canticles, the Apostles’ Creed and the suffrages, the General Thanksgiving and St. Chrysostom’s “golden-tongued” prayer — far from heaped-up words, these are “rich phrases,” poignant and powerful.
There’s not a wasted word in the Daily Office, no needless repetition, no hedging, no hemming or hawing.
We simply pray in the way that our Lord taught us, and his early followers practiced, and the women and men of the desert whetted into sharpness, and the Benedictines rounded and smoothed seven times a day, and the choirs adorned with ravishing melodies, and Archbishop Cranmer organized, and the publishers bound with ribbons between leather covers, and the developers turned into a clean app and website so there’s no barrier to our praying.
So, when you pray … pray like this.